This week’s alarming headline by Jonny Hogg: “Congo seeks to open way to oil drilling in national parks” reveals how the government of the DRC is planning to go ahead with oil exploration within National Parks. DRC’s parliament is to debate, as early as this month, the new Hydrocarbon bill that could permit oil exploration in Virunga National Park. The fact that this bill could allow DRC’s government to provide an exemption to the ban on oil activities in national parks “for reasons of national interest” is extremely worrying.
1 / It ignores the concerns expressed by members of civil society from North Kivu, the local communities, conflict analysts and the international community during the last public gathering around oil exploration in DRC and its impact on ecosystems held on February 21st, 2013.
Local communities have endured many conflicts over misuse of natural resources in North Kivu and they fear these developments could lead to a significant increase in insecurity, poverty and loss of vital livelihoods. The communities are more than aware of the consequences of natural resource exploitation in their province. They are at the basis of the fragile governance and current conflicts in eastern DRC. Therefore they urge the DRC Government to think about other sustainable development alternatives for the region.
2/ It threatens good governance, a good business climate and transparency in the extractive sector in DRC. DRC is a country with serious bottleneck governance issues and placed near the bottom of Transparency International’s annual corruption perception index, with a rank of 160 out 174. The fact that most of oil-producing nations rank high in corruption should be central when looking at possible economic alternatives and legal frameworks that will ensure transparency.
3 / It is not without controversy; there is a need for public scrutiny, most certainly when some of the members of the parliament of DRC are portrayed as “leading champions of Soco International Plc”(1) the UK oil company which operates block 5 in Virunga National Park.
4 / It goes against national and international laws and a commitment made by the government of the DRC to hold off any further activities until the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is fully completed and discussed between the various stakeholders.
But most of all, it is disturbing because of the notion it brings into the discussion table: “the pursuit of the national interest”.
The national interest is often referred as a country’s economic or military goals (2). Machiavelli, Richelieu, were some of the first thinkers to advocate for the primacy of the national interest, which makes us wonder what form it could take in DRC’s foreign policy.
Will the government of DRC be able to balance its own particular necessities with the human, social, environmental and economic needs and rights of the local communities it represents?
(1) Source: Africa Energy Intelligence
(2) Source: Wikipedia